Chef Class Week 9
By Rona Lewis
Photos by Cathy Arkle
I eat fish a lot. I’m especially fond buying fish that are deemed “Best Choices” from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. This is a bi-yearly report on the safest species of fish to eat. They even have an App so you can check the guide from your phone when you’re at the store! I love this. I also loved the fact that May handed out the latest version along with our class recipes.
When you buy fish, it’s important to make sure your fish is fresh. Fish is highly perishable because of its high moisture content and high protein content. Fish should smell like the ocean. If it has a strong, ammonia-like smell, run away! A good fish department will have all fish stored on ice and that ice should be fine, as larger pieces can pierce delicate fish skin. Speaking of skin, this should be shiny and tight and make sure the fins are intact. The eyes should be full and round. Eyes that look sunken are a sign of dehydration. If you’re looking at fillets, these should be compact and dense and spring back when touched. I always find chatting with the people behind the counter a good indicator of how well the fish is handled. If the people are knowledgeable, the fish is probably fresh.
May brought up the term “Sushi Grade Tuna.” What that means isn’t what people usually think. Most of this type of tuna is pre-frozen, as freezing kills off some of the bacteria and parasites, so if you consume it raw, it’s most probably good to eat. For most of us though, it’s not a fabulous idea to freeze fish. Basic home freezers aren’t cold enough and it gets crystalized. Fresh fish only lasts 24-48 hours, so if you want to keep it, put it over ice, on brown paper, in the back of the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Here’s another fun fact about fin fish-the more active a fish is, the firmer and darker the flesh will be. These include salmon, swordfish and tuna. Guppies are pretty active! I wonder if they’re too small to fillet? These fish taste best grilled, sautéed, poached, steamed or roasted. They’re not great for deep frying-have you ever heard of salmon fish sticks?!
The less active fish are the ones with a more delicate flavor, like sole, flounder, catfish and cod. Now THESE you can fry, both deep and pan fry. They’re also great sautéed and broiled.
There are 3 kinds of fin fish-round, flat and non-bony. Round fish have eyes on each side of the body and are, y’know…round. The flat fish have a flat body and eyes that are on the top part of their head. Like a flounder. Non-bony fish have no bones, only cartilage. Sharks, swordfish and skate are all non-bony.
No matter how you cook your fish, it does cook quickly, so you want to keep as much moisture in as possible, so it should be ‘just’ done. There is no “absolute” timing with fish. If you press on it , it should feel like it’s separating. Here’s a tip-if you’re not sure if your fish is done, take a skewer and stick it in the thickest part. The tip should be hot on your tongue. You might not be able to talk after this, but you’ll be eating, anyway, so who cares? If you have a very thin tail portion, tuck it under itself so that part doesn’t get overdone.
Before we started cooking ourselves, May gave a demonstration of 3 types of cooking techniques using salmon. She poached some first, using a piece of paper called a “cartouche,” which is cut into a circle to fit into the pot you’re poaching in. The paper keeps moisture in the fish. You can use bouillon or stock to add flavor to the poaching stock. Never boil poaching liquid, as higher heat tightens fish muscle. Keep the heat low so it just simmers.
Then she pan seared a piece. Put it skin side or presentation side down first and don’t move it a lot. Just let it cook to get that nice crust on it. Then she finished it by roasting it at 375 for about 5 minutes.
The third demonstration was grilling. Many people have trouble with fish sticking to the grill. She said the same thing she did with the pan-searing. Don’t move it. Don’t keep flipping it over and over. Just put it there and let it cook. When it’s just about done (touch the top), THEN flip it. It shouldn’t stick.
I wanted to fillet a salmon, but I only got to skin some black cod. Cathy got to make tuna with a gorgeous dry rub. Here’s the link to what she made: Cathy’s Blog!
Here’s what I had to cook: